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Wildfire Road at Sheffield's Tanya Moiseiwitsch Playhouse – review

Laura Keefe's production runs until 18 March

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
The cast of Wildfire Road
(© Helen Murray)

One can well see a good play about climate change dependent on the hi-jacking of an aeroplane flight by a mysterious stranger – to take them to safety while Europe burns below. Sadly, I don’t think Wildfire Road is that play, though it does provide 55 minutes of eventful, varied and (at times literally) explosive action.

The Playhouse is transformed by the presence of six airline seats across the acting area, a little space for the flight attendant and a screen which can reflect the passengers or open up to reveal the flight deck. Before the start Rina, the flight attendant, welcomes passengers aboard – at considerable intervals of time. Then we go into the safety procedure which suddenly transforms into a wild dance for all and sundry up and down the aisle. Clearly it is going to be no ordinary flight!

A television screen at the front of the cabin serves as a commentary on the action, identifying characters by name, pointing out what’s going on: the passengers discussing who first noticed the hi-jacker, the reasons why they are going to Tokyo, the planned destination, time for prayer and so on. Concerted howls, yells and passengers shaking in their seats reinforce the horror while in between we get cold statistics about wildfires in Australia. As we near destruction, a model of the aeroplane makes its uncertain way across the acting area while the cast sings, “The Wind Beneath My Wings”. 

As Rina the flight attendant, Siubhan Harrison tries to maintain a somewhat frosty calm before descending into a mess of screamed obscenities. Mariella (Phoebe Naughton) and Dave (Mark Weinman) debate the mysterious circumstances that brought them there in pleasingly inconsequential terms. Raj Bajaj doubles the co-pilot with an ultra-cautious passenger and Zoe West as the pilot bemoans the fact that this had to happen with a female pilot and (at first) looks forward to her honeymoon in Tokyo with Ruby (Robyn Sinclair).

And, among all those, no mention of the hi-jacker who, in fact, is just a mask assumed by various cast members.

All six performers do well, not especially as individual characters, but in finding the right intensity or poetry in short extracts or in responding perfectly together in agonising shrieks or manic dancing. Director Laura Keefe fills the limited space with dynamic action and a stylish design team supports her admirably.

It’s Eve Leigh’s script that troubles me, with its seemingly random mix of styles. At its current very short length, Leigh hardly has time to develop her thoughts. Perhaps a strange thing to say, but I believe it could even benefit from being twice as long.